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Easter in Italy and Around the World

March 24, 2013 Carlino's Restaurant no comments
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“Easter Sunday brings thoughts of egg hunts, Easter bonnets and chocolate bunnies”

For us, Easter Sunday might bring thoughts of egg hunts, Easter bonnets and chocolate bunnies, but the holiday has a different feel in other parts of the world. Marked with the solemnity of its religious origins and the lightheartedness of spring’s rebirth, Easter has a long and colorful history that even retains elements of ancient Roman festivals.

Russia and Eastern Europe

Russian and Eastern European countries’ Easter celebrations are most famous for their incredibly detailed decorated eggs. These aren’t the simple hard-boiled and dyed eggs most of us know for Easter; these works of art are often meant to be displayed for years. The eggs are a hold-over from the earliest celebrations of spring’s renewal. They represented new beginnings and fertility, and adorning them with festive decorations is a practice that predates not only Christianity but also recorded history; no one’s quite sure when the practice began. However, the Romans almost certainly contributed to the custom, carrying it to all corners of the far-flung Roman Empire.

While Easter Sunday is solemn, the Monday afterward is celebratory throughout Eastern Europe. It’s tradition to spank others with decorated willow switches – think of the friendly swats you might get on your birthday or the affectionate pinch you’d get if you forgot to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day. Water-fights are also common, especially in Poland.

The dinner table almost always includes a ham, eggs and bread, often marked in the shape of a cross to honor the religious roots of the celebration. Some traditions also include cracking boiled eggs with a nail to symbolize Christ’s suffering.

Greece

Greek Orthodox traditions start with celebrations on Great Thursday with eggs dyed red and placed on altars or ikons. Easter is a more solemn holiday than it is elsewhere; traditional and devout households consider the next few days a period of mourning. On Holy Friday, church bells toll in funereal tones and flags fly at half-mast. Saturday’s observances have a distinctly modern twist; the Eternal Flame travels to Greece from Jerusalem by jet, a trip that used to be considerably longer. Each church gets its own flame that remains lit throughout the remainder of the week.

On Easter Sunday, the somber tone of the holy week is transformed to a joyful celebration. Whole spit-roasted lamb is a traditional centerpiece to an Easter feast, but any kind of lamb dish can work for those who don’t have time or space for a whole lamb. Heaps of delicacies grace every table, and the retsina and ouzo flow freely throughout the day. It’s no wonder, then, that Easter Monday is a time of restful contemplation in the Greek tradition.

Italy

The home of the Roman Catholic Church and of pre-Christian Roman celebrations of spring naturally has its own rich Easter traditions. It’s second only to Christmas in its importance socially, and for many devout Italians, it’s the most solemn feast in the liturgical calendar. Good Friday is filled with more solemn observances, including blessings from parish priests and meatless Lenten meals, but Sunday is a day for celebration.

Easter Sunday is for feasting on pork, lamb and veal as well as sweet treats in the shape of eggs. Chocolate eggs are as beloved in Italy as they are here for Easter, and the Italians have turned decorating the candies into an art form. Bakeries try to outdo each other with lavish confections and iced cakes. The colomba pasquale, or Easter dove, is a special sweetened, yeast-leavened Easter bread that is Easter’s counterpart to the traditional Christmas panettone.

Florence has a unique tradition, the Scoppio del Carro, loosely translated as the Bursting of the Cart. A cart filled with fireworks is paraded through the streets and set alight with flints from the Holy Sepulchre, bringing together a religious tradition with one that predates Christianity in a unique event that celebrates spring with a bang.

Whether you celebrate Easter as a traditional Christian holiday or as a celebration of spring’s arrival, Carlino’s wishes you Buona Pasqua!



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